If you live in the Bangor area and you haven’t seen Tim and Cam Ward out on the town, you are either not hitting the right spots or you’re not paying attention, because this father and son team — and they truly are a team — are everywhere.
They are easy to spot in a crowd. Cam is 25 years old, tall, slender and handsome with beautiful strawberry blond hair. Tim, while not as tall and without quite as much hair, is a dashing middle-age dad, visibly devoted to the son who nearly is always positioned just off his shoulder and often holding his hand.
To many in the Bangor area community they are rock stars, and of course they have a story.
Cam was born in 1988 to Tim and his wife, Karen, both nurses at Eastern Maine Medical Center.
It was clear early on that Cam was experiencing some pretty serious developmental delays, and Karen, the nurse-mother, simply kicked herself into gear and started him in occupational and physical therapy and teaching him sign language.
He eventually was diagnosed with having the very rare ring chromosome 22, a severe genetic disorder as well as autism, and by the age of two Cam had lost all communication ability.
With Tim’s good job at the hospital, Karen was able to retire and devote herself full time to Cam’s health and development. He went to school and got into a six-month program at Brown University in Rhode Island, which helped with his behavior and communication skills. He received services at United Cerebral Palsy, attended Glenburn Elementary School and eventually Stillwater Academy in Brewer.
Karen “was such a strong advocate for him. She just seemed to know what to do and when. She kept him and our lives very structured, which was exactly what was needed,” Tim said. “And we felt so fortunate that she had those skills and that we could afford for her to stay home with him.”
But then — and it seems there always is a “but then” — Karen passed away unexpectedly in 2007. Cam was 19.
“Karen was our support system. We have a small family in the area, but she and I were best friends. It was Cam, though, that kept me level and locked,” Tim said.
Tim was able to get Cam into the day program at the Edward J. Bouchea Center for Learning on Thirteenth Street in Bangor, which allowed him to continue to work his full-time job.
He relied on his Catholic faith and his church community at the Newman Center in Orono and at some point made a decision that he and Cam were going to live full lives, front and center in their community.
“Once I made that decision I never for a moment thought ‘this isn’t going to work,’” he said.
It started with the 2008 American Folk Festival.
Tim had been volunteering at the festival and grown to love his connections there. Cam and Karen, however, stayed home.
“So the time came to start preparing for the festival and I wondered how I was going to do it because I really wanted to continue my involvement and I said, ‘OK, let’s do it together,’” he recalled.
So he took Cam with him and together they volunteered, attended and immersed themselves in all three days of the festival.
“People just accepted us so fully and made us feel so welcome and Cameron just became part of the team. He also simply loves music so it was the perfect event for us,” Tim said.
Father and son have never looked back and never slowed down.
Tim is a graduate of the University of Maine and Husson University, and he and Cam attend every home hockey game.
Because of Cam’s autism, Tim watched carefully to see if the loud and often abrupt atmosphere at the games might trouble him.
“It took a little bit for him to become comfortable and to realize he was safe, but now he loves the games, he hears the music and he claps and the fans we are seated with simply love him. It’s a special community for us and he has developed a special relationship with Coach [Red] Gendron,” Tim said.
Tim is on the Friends of Maine Hockey board of directors and the Black Bear athletics board and Cam attends the meetings with him.
They go to choir practice in Old Town on Tuesday nights.
They go to baseball games in the spring and attend most of the concerts on the Bangor waterfront.
“Even if we aren’t going into the show, we are down here for each one and we walk along the river and watch the people,” he said.
They walk together in the Bangor Mall, where they are well known to all the employees, and they dine out a lot.
Tim is a champion for downtown Bangor, and he and Cam go to every business opening to meet the new owners and their customers.
Tim posts pictures of many of their outings on Facebook, which provides his “friends” with a very personal look at this very special love story between father and son.
“I just have an internal expectation that anything I’m invited to he’s invited to and that has always been the case,” Tim said. “I understand that some people who aren’t familiar with us might have questions about Cam, but I welcome that. I understand it.
“Were there times in my life when I asked ‘why me?’ Sure, but why not me? Cam deserves a good life and I think I have the tools to provide that. Staying home alone together all the time is not a good life. I love this community and I love Cam and this community has embraced him and me and has enriched our lives beyond measure,” he said.
As the three of us ate dinner together at the Sea Dog earlier this week, Tim chatted easily while feeding Cam french fries, occasionally encouraging him to feed himself, but not forcing it.
Occasionally Cam would smile and make noise. When not eating he rubs his fingers, which is calming for him, Tim said.
“I would love to know what he thinks,” Tim admits. “Maybe someday I’ll hear him speak, but what I do believe is that he knows way more than we think he does and we are happy with our lives and I am happy to live in his light.”
You can reach Renee Ordway at email@example.com.